Matthew Bruderman, nominated to head the board that oversees Nassau...

Matthew Bruderman, nominated to head the board that oversees Nassau University Medical Center, at a recent event. Credit: Debbie Egan-Chin

Civil rights leaders are denouncing Matthew Bruderman, who has been nominated to head the board that oversees Nassau University Medical Center, for statements he made distinguishing between "good" and "bad" racism.

Members of the Long Island chapter of the NAACP, Democratic state and county lawmakers, and other community leaders said Bruderman's comments ranged from "awful" to "nonsensical."

Bruderman, 50, a financial adviser and big donor to Republicans, made the comments in executive session March 20 during an emergency board meeting called to defend a lawsuit seeking to toss out his appointment.

He also told board members, in the public session, that he would "mow you down" if they blocked his efforts to serve as chairman.

Newsday obtained a recording of the executive session.

A Newsday story on Sunday reported the comments, which experts said reflect increasing politicization of NuHealth, the public benefit corporation that runs Nassau County's only public hospital. NuHealth serves many patients who are on Medicaid or lack private insurance, and runs high annual operating deficits.

In the executive session, Bruderman said at first that he was interested in working with Democrats and was "still willing to put everything behind."

He then said: "I tell my kids there's like good racism, bad racism, you know from the standpoint of people's perspective they judge people, and I tell my kids all the time: You shouldn't get something because of your religion, your color of your skin, or whatever else. You shouldn't get something. And you shouldn't have it taken away, either. You should be blind, you should be agnostic. And those same principles should be here in this hospital."

Tracey Edwards, regional chief of the NAACP, told Newsday in an interview, "It's like saying, there's good cancer and bad cancer. There's good racism and bad racism. No. There's racism and there's cancer."

Frederick K. Brewington, a civil rights lawyer, said, “The comment that there could be a level of racism that is good is mind-blowing. And for leadership of a hospital, to have made a comment like that, reveals a thought process that cannot be helpful for the many people that have suffered from racism.”

Bishop Lionel Harvey of the First Baptist Cathedral of Westbury told Newsday, "it's a travesty to sow seeds of discord in the lives of children. It creates the tone for implicit bias and the very connotation for the definition of racism sets a tone for a lifetime of misunderstanding and disdain that has been nurtured by those words that really are nonsensical." 

On Tuesday, Bruderman said in a statement: “My comments in executive session were meant to reference the good that has been done by race preferences with affirmative action that has leveled the playing field for those who have been discriminated against in the past.”

Nassau County Executive Bruce Blakeman, a Republican who appointed Bruderman to the seat on March 4, said Tuesday: "My understanding is Mr. Bruderman was making the point that to deprive someone of opportunities or services based on race is bad and to use race to create diversity and opportunities that otherwise wouldn’t be available is good.”

A day earlier, on Monday, a defiant Bruderman said during a news conference outside the hospital, "don't believe what you read in the paper."

Bruderman said he had "a script, because people have told me that I had to have prepared statements where the fine press will manipulate the words, put dot dot dot in the newspaper, and not finish the rest of what I'm saying."

Blakeman said Monday at the news conference that Bruderman "didn't want the job. I had to beg him to take the job. Because I needed someone of this stature to lead this organization."

Nassau Minority Leader Kevan Abrahams (D-Freeport) said his members looked forward to questioning Bruderman on Friday, when his appointment comes before the Legislature's Rules Committee.

Abrahams said he was confused by Bruderman's remark.

"I don't know if he's trying to explain something like affirmative action. It just seems like a really poor choice of words, which if you're aspiring to become the chairman of the hospital, the top position at the hospital at that entity, it's a very poor choice of words to describe racism as good, or any racism as good. Racism is bad."

NuHealth chief executive and president Dr. Anthony Boutin said, “I have spoken at length with Mr. Bruderman about his comprehensive plan to provide opportunities and increased resources to minority communities, and Nassau’s most vulnerable populations who rely heavily on NUMC for care. I am confident he will be a champion for all of Nassau’s communities and will help turn this hospital around to make it the world-class facility we know it can be."

A Nassau state judge had enjoined Bruderman from taking his seat after board member Ann Kayman sued, arguing Blakeman improperly dismissed her in favor of Bruderman. On Friday, Majority Republicans in the Nassau Legislature filed a resolution to appoint Bruderman in place of another board member, Linda Reed.

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